Introducing the Community Operating Model
In our last article we share the pyramid framework, in which you have a foundation of talent, investors and capital supporting the startup in building a great product and selling that product.
When we think about community-led businesses, we think of a wheel instead. Using a wheel shape allows the people that support the business to be centered, with the impacts they make rippling out around that center.
By thinking of the people that interact with your business first - customers, your team, founders, and investors – and fostering them as a community of supporters, the business is uniting a tribe around the mission of your company.
Supporters of your business believe in your organization's ability to make a difference. Whether that difference is creating a great workplace, supporting the climate, increasing productivity, your supporters believe in that impact.
Beyond the foundation of community is the outer circle. This is how the community delivers value to startups. Let’s discuss:
Product Innovation – Iterative Feedback Loops
For about two years I worked directly in Product in a community-led organization. The benefits of having a vibrant community are tremendous.
First, having strong relationships with all our customers, I could easily meet with clients for discovery interviews and testing, and could share product updates in group meetings.
Also, the community was constantly sharing different ways they used the product. They would share how they were being successful and where they were getting stuck. The richness of the conversations and the insight into how customers were using our product allowed me to have a unique advantage as a product manager and improve our product continuously.
An example of this is super user programs. Super users are people who love your product and for whom your product is a significant part of their everyday life. Atlassian is a great example; they elevate their super users as community leaders, providing beta access to features, putting on select programming for them, and providing direct access to the Atlassian team. In turn, they are continuously providing feedback and supporting other Atlassian users.
Feedback and iteration are critical to the success of a startup and community tightens those feedback loops.
Amplify Brand – Help Customers Reach Self-Actualization
As a startup, you are trying to build a solution that delivers value to a customer. Typically, that value is your customer achieving a goal or creating a change. Creating a group that connects and supports each other allows for that impact to be amplified.
The community acts as a piece of your product. It amplifies the product offering because the customers are not only receiving utility from your product, but also from a supportive community, allowing them to learn your product quicker, invest more time into it and get a better result.
Since the community becomes part of the product offering, many may find utility through your community first, then be drawn into your product or service, essentially creating a lead magnet to grow your business.
A great example of this is HubSpot and their HubSpot Academy. An online community for people to learn, connect, and grow marketing and sales skills. They hold conferences and events which connect users. HubSpot consistently demonstrates that becoming a better salesperson or marketer through their platform is straightforward and achievable, increasing the value of their product.
Develop Culture – The oxygen for chemistry
I am a big believer that our organizations are going to look a lot more like communities in the future. And the Web3 crowd is banking on that as well.
But why? Organizations at a time can feel hierarchical and transactional. Person A reports into person B to do a certain task. We go to work to deliver what we are asked to do.
If you look at the greatest sports teams they don’t simply pass the ball, shoot the puck or dribble down the court to the tune of the play. Yes, they have plans and strategies, but the best teams have chemistry, they know each other, they trust each other, and that enables them to perform at their individual and collective best.
Community is the oxygen for chemistry. Feeling connected to others that want to support and being in an environment that enables us to be our true authentic selves allows us to lean into our strengths and overcome our fears. When people feel like they can be their best, they also attract others to join them. We know talent is placing high value on organization culture when job-seeking. As this trend continues, the organizations that leverage community will have an advantage over those that don't.
Leverage Capital – Unlocking potential
Yes, a traditional investor is typically investing in a company, exchanging their capital for shares in a company. As an angel investor myself, investing in a startup is more than looking for a simple return on investment. I want to invest in companies that are creating the change I want to see in the world.
And with that, I want to support the organization beyond dollars. Be it through connecting them to customers, talent, providing feedback or just being there for a founder, I want that company to succeed. Both for me financially and because it helps create the world I want to see in the future.
Having a community approach ensures you are continuing to engage investors and creating foundations for long term support versus a more transactional relationship. This can be as simply as an investor newsletter, investor events, or hosting an investor day. Bringing them into the fold of what you are trying to make them feel like they are a part of your mission may unlock connections, clients, and resources.
Establish Authority - Attracting Supporters, Believers and Mentors
When a company builds community, it is connected to a group of believers and thought leaders. It is consistently putting out content, running events, and developing a presence as an industry authority / expert.
Finding true champions of your mission both as ambassadors and mentors is critical to success. An example of this is Notion’s Ambassador program. Notion created a program connecting their most passionate users. They equipped these users to build courses and templates, making the program a core part of their thought leadership and brand. In turn, these ambassadors continue to promote Notion and its offering. If you ever have seen a Roam versus Notion debate on Twitter, it’s fierce.
As Founders, we are looking for mentorship and guidance. Be it advisors, mentors, or thought leaders that are willing to share our mission, founders need people who have been there, done that, and are willing to share stories, provide a sounding board and create an outlet.
Focusing on people around your initiative in the form of a community amplifies your ability to attract and identify those mentors and advisors, increasing beneficial collisions with others.
Building a Flywheel – Moats and Network Effects
Lastly, community is the ultimate advantage in building network effects. The intertwined web of connection centered around your organization’s purpose will create offshoots that are hard to imagine at first.
By having a strong community, your people will refer back to it often and continue to treat it as a foundational place to connect. Often sharing stories with others and growing both the mission and your awareness in exponential ways.
Like a web, the more connections that are made, the stronger the advantage. It is incredibly difficult to build lasting communities, but once established, it is likely to create a stable moat from competitors breaking in.
As a founder, can you afford to say “we are not ready to invest in community”, as you are focused on building your pyramid, or are you going to go all-in to create your community operating model today?
Can you afford to put off investing in community?